Colorado Senator Michael Bennet has written a letter to President Obama. The letter, signed by 64 senators, says, “…we believe comprehensive deficit reduction measures are imperative and (we) ask you to support a broad approach to solving the problem.”
The letter left some scratching their heads: If so many senators are pushing Obama to engage in deficit reduction ideas, why haven’t they done it themselves?
“Beyond FY2011 funding decisions, we urge you to engage in a broader discussion about a comprehensive deficit reduction package,” the letter states. “Specifically, we hope that the discussion will include discretionary budget cuts, entitlement changes and tax reform.”
The letter says that negotiations on budget issues will be more successful with Obama’s support.
The fact that a supermajority of senators — it takes 60 to pass legislation in the Senate — are urging Obama to act on the deficit wasn’t lost on the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein:
In this letter, 64 senators manage to sound like an interest group begging the White House for support rather than a supermajority of the United States Senate — which is to say, a coalition of men and women who could, on their own, draft and pass the very legislation they’re talking about. Which raises the question: Why are they writing this letter rather than the legislation this letter claims to want?
The letter urges Obama to support the Simpson-Bowles Commission’s recommendations for tackling the budget. That commission was a bipartisan effort put together by Obama to generate ideas for reducing the deficit.
The first thing that’s ridiculous about this, is that if 64 Senators want to vote for the Simpson-Bowles Commission’s recommendations, then there’s nothing stopping them from voting for the Simpson-Bowles Commission’s recommendations. They don’t need support from Barack Obama to do so. If anything, Barack Obama endorsing Simpson-Bowles would make it more difficult for Republicans to endorse it.
Yet, in spite of the naysayers, The Washington Post editorialized favorably about the letter and its call to action:
The senators’ letter, organized by Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet and Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns, was intended to offer the president some assurance that, if he takes political risks on deficit reduction, lawmakers won’t saw the limb out from under him. The signers included 32 Democrats, including Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and 32 Republicans, including GOP Conference Chair Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
A single, relatively vague letter should not be mistaken for agreement on a final package; that will be difficult and painful to achieve. Still, when it’s difficult to get a filibuster-proof majority to agree on naming a new post office, securing that number of signatures from senators across the spectrum is no small feat. And it is significant that such a large number endorsed the fundamental conclusion of the fiscal commission — that the only realistic way to deal with the debt is with a comprehensive, multipronged approach combining spending cuts, entitlement changes and tax reform.
“I do not believe that the hard things that need to be done can be done without the White House being involved every step of the way,” Johanns told reporters.
Andy Birkey contributed writing and reporting to this article.